My friends are accustomed to me driving around in all sorts of different cars, but they refuse to believe me when I tell them we are road-tripping from Sydney to Byron Bay for the Splendour in the Grass music festival in one with more legroom than a limousine.
How else can I build anticipation for what is to be a circa-2000km five-day slog in a people-mover designed for 40-something-year-olds with too many children among a quartet of 20-something-year-olds with plans to take too many, err, selfies...?
I imagine our Honda Odyssey VTi-L long-termer will be about as unpopular and offensive to this youthful demographic as a Wicked van at a feminist convention, but to my surprise it wins fans instantly as I round up the troops.
The first “wow”-eliciting feature is the electric sliding rear doors, which require passengers to simply tug on the handles and watch in wonder as they automatically slide open. Very cool, they decide – though they are significantly less cool in a downpour when all you want to do is quickly rip the door open, jump in and slam it shut, rather than wait for the slow electrics to leisurely grant your sopping body access.
My passengers’ jaws drop almost to the Odyssey’s super-low floor when they see the twin captain’s chairs in the second row complete with arm rests, leg rests and recline functions, and the aforementioned acres of legroom. The later discoveries of window blinds, air vents and reading lights score more points as the journey rolls on.
The high-grade Odyssey VTi-L’s 2+2+3 seating arrangement proves perfect for our trip, with all four occupants seated in leathery, business class comfort and our luggage barely covering the surface area of the boot with the third-row seats folded flat into the floor.
The touchscreen media system allows all four of us to connect our phones via Bluetooth at the same time and stream our music, though an annoying ‘safety’ feature means we can only pair devices when the car is stationary. Two USB ports in the front and two 12-volt sockets ensure the electrons and the tunes keep flowing for hours on the road.
The capacitive touch climate control panel beneath the centre screen looks slick, but it demands much more of your attention than a conventional system with tactile buttons and dials, meaning more time with your eyes off the road – far from ideal at highway speeds.
The Odyssey’s 129kW/225Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine makes plenty of noise when pushed hard to accelerate but relaxes well on the open road. The automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) is an excellent complement. It doesn’t drone like less sophisticated gearboxes of its breed, and is quick to react to inputs, allowing for swift and confident overtaking manoeuvres and refined progress at lower speeds.
The big Honda is a competent steed across the changeable conditions of the Pacific Hwy, though its ride lacks the suppleness of its predecessor. Surface joins and potholes are heard loudly and felt abruptly, and are even more pronounced in the second row. Undulations also send waves through the cabin, as the suspension is slow to settle. The cabin is well insulated from road noise, however, and wind noise is also expertly hushed for a fridge of its proportions.
I had no plans and even less desire to test out the Odyssey’s dynamic abilities, but I was presented with that very opportunity soon after arriving at the festival and being denied entry. (I won’t bore you with the details, but it involves me possessing no shoes, a pedantic security guard, a four-kilometre traffic jam on the main highway leading to the festival, and a seemingly impossible amount of time to race to our rented house in Mullumbimby and make it back to catch the first set.)
If you’re ever in the area, I recommend detouring onto Coolamon Scenic Drive. It treats you to beautiful mountain pass scenery and tremendously fun bends, including one particularly memorable steep left-hand hairpin. Naturally, I was wishing for something a little more performance oriented than a people-mover to push through the corners, but to the Odyssey’s credit its quick, light steering and decent composure make it feel surprisingly agile, though it is prone to plenty of body roll.
The fact that it took on a great road, bypassed a traffic jam on an old forgotten highway, and got us back to the festival with moments to spare (this time with shoes!) made the Odyssey a bit of a hero in my eyes.
It’s considerably less heroic when its low front bumper lip scrapes on steep driveways, however, and – as Trent pointed out last month – when its low front door frames get swung into tall gutters.
After a dusty, sandy, grassy and junk-foody weekend like ours, the Odyssey’s intricate array of floor mats – some only a couple of inches wide – that cover every surface of the carpet made it significantly easier to clean than expected, and will no doubt quickly become a favourite feature of mums and dads across the country.
Across our 1969km round trip, the Odyssey drank 171 litres of fuel, averaging 8.7 litres per 100km – up on its official 7.8L/100km combined and 6.8L/100km highway ratings (as well as the 8.3L/100km displayed by the trip computer), though reasonable considering it completed the majority of the journey with four passengers and their luggage on board.
I had hesitations heading into this trip – after all, a slab-sided people-mover wasn’t exactly my vision of a cool mode of transport to a music festival. But the Honda Odyssey won me over. No other car could have provided the same levels of comfort, convenience and space for four people as it did, and while most other cars would have been more fun along Coolamon Scenic Drive, it was the Odyssey that took it on, claimed it, and won a place in our group’s festival folklore.
Honda Odyssey VTi-L
Date acquired: April 2014
Odometer reading: 7246km
Travel this month: 2685km
Consumption this month: 9.3L/100km